Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Christian Pacifism

In the middle of the Democrat's national convention and the larger presidential election campaign this topic may seem a little, um, too heavy.  But Mrs. Sage directed my attention to a piece by Mark Tooley and thought it warranted a comment at least.

Tooley reports briefly on pacifist Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas's critique of non-pacifist just war defender C.S. Lewis.  (Such is Lewis's status today that everyone seems to feel the need to bounce off of him.  I find that interesting, but another topic altogether.)  As Tooley points out, Hauerwas's pacifism comes chiefly from his teacher, Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder.  Tooley doesn't so much rehearse the relevant arguments as he defends Lewis for speaking for the common man--Lewis did write "Mere Christianity" after all--while attacking Hauerwas for speaking mostly for more or less cloistered academics.  He ends his piece with this:
Lewis is vastly popular across church traditions because he strove to convey essential truths to broad audiences. The far more narrow Hauerwas/Yoder attempt to redefine Christian orthodoxy is provocative and sophisticated. But will it endure?
Will it endure?  I think not.  The counsel to pacifism has always been a minority report even within the Christian tradition and I think the reasons are at least two-fold.

First, any thinking Christian would readily concede that, for example, Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount commanding us to "turn the other cheek" is revolutionary.  But, and this is critical for any orthodox believer, the rest of scripture is less clear on that point.

Second, and to my mind even more critical, is that to command one to forswear the use of violent force when necessary to defend the innocent, when necessary to defend and even establish justice itself, is to command a human to be, well, in-human, in effect to command him to do violence to his very soul.  The reflex to come immediately and violently if necessary to the defense of one being treated unjustly is simply too strong, too compelling.

So compelling is it in fact, that the same thinking Christian is left to ponder at least what exactly did Jesus mean.  The God who became Man cannot be commanding us to be less than men.  So, for the Christian, Jesus' meaning remains an open, if still uncomfortable, question.

In the meantime, while we Christians may feel saddened, and extremely so, at the sometime need for the use of  violent force, we will use it nevertheless. 

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